science environment

Oregon Secretary Of State Rejects Ballot Proposal On Immigrant Driver's Licenses

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Oct. 22, 2019 6:15 p.m.

Foes of a new law that grants undocumented immigrants Oregon driver's licenses have been working for months to repeal the policy. Now, they might need to start over.

Secretary of State Bev Clarno announced Tuesday that the effort, Initiative Petition 43, did not pass constitutional muster and cannot proceed.


Related: Oregon House OKs Bill Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Individuals

The reason: Clarno said that the wording of the petition does not include the “full text of the proposed law,” as required by the Oregon Constitution. Instead, the petition calls for a law passed via House Bill 2015 to be repealed, without offering what Clarno calls “the specific language” of the change being proposed.

“It is my sincere hope that the proponents of this ballot measure will take my ruling as an opportunity to improve their proposal,” Clarno said in a statement. “I will always support the presentation of ballot measures that meet constitutional requirements.”

One of the proposal’s chief petitioners, Mark Callahan, immediately sent Clarno an e-mail disputing the finding, and asking her to reconsider. He said he’s not proposing a new law, but pushing a law to be scrubbed from the books.

“How can we submit the full text of a law that we are NOT ‘proposing’?” Callahan wrote. “It does not make any sense. If we are NOT ‘proposing’ a law, there is not full text of a law to submit.”


It's not just Clarno raising concerns about the proposal. In ballot language for the petition, the Oregon Department of Justice wrote it was unclear whether the outcome of passing the measure would actually repeal the driver's license law.

Deputy Secretary of State Rich Vial told OPB that a petition that laid out exactly which provisions of Oregon law would be stricken if it were approved by voters should be able to proceed.

"We'd probably have to let that one come," Vial said.

HB 2015 was among the most controversial bills Oregon lawmakers passed this year. It eliminates the requirement that a person provide proof of legal presence in order to get a state driver’s license.

The bill saw fierce debate in part because Oregon voters had widely rejected a similar law in 2014.

In filing their initiative petition in mid-August, Callahan and his co-chief petitioner, Angela Roman, hoped to force a repeat of that vote. On Aug. 30, they turned in more than enough signatures to spur state officials to begin writing ballot language. Now, nearly two months later, the effort has been disqualified.

Clarno’s latest ruling is similar to one she made in September regarding three closely-related proposals about forest protections. In rejecting those proposals, Clarno determined that they were overbroad, not meeting a constitutional requirement to “embrace one subject only.”

That ruling was panned by environmental groups and some ballot measure attorneys, who told the Oregonian/OregonLive that Clarno's reasoning was specious, and suggested her decision was rooted in partisanship. Backers of the proposals have since filed suit challenging the ruling, but have also filed three more narrow initiative petition proposals.

A release explaining Clarno’s ruling on IP 43 explicitly addressed the notion of partisanship.

“Decisions regarding the constitutionality of an initiative petition must be made without regard to the petition’s subject,” it said. “Secretary Clarno is committed to avoiding partisanship in carrying out all of the responsibilities of her office, including ensuring that our initiative and elections processes are fair and impartial.”